Psychological Self-Help

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custodial fathers, who maintain some contact, socialize but almost
never teach or discipline the children. This is a critical time for boys to
be abandoned by their role models! Nevertheless, boys' and girls'
adjustment seems to get better two or three years later, depending on
(1) how well they are getting along with the custodial parent and (2)
how well that parent is adjusting (Pett, 1982). However, even 5 years
later, one third still had a wide range of school and behavior problems
and they weren't getting any better. Another third had some lingering
problems. The remaining third seemed to be doing well. 
Bitter parents (married or not) are very destructive
Research has shown just as clearly that serious open parental
conflict within the home causes harm, probably more harm than a
divorce if it goes on and on. So, a loving single-parent home is
probably better than two fighting parents, although children need close
contact with both parents. It may be easier if the parents are
separated, but it is also hard for bitterly angry people to work together
to provide wise, coordinated post-divorce co-parenting. Consider this:
the children are having the emotional reactions mentioned above; they
are also probably critical of the divorce; they may hide their feelings
but often show disapproval of mom and dad dating other people; they
may feel guilty and "in the middle" of their parents' continuing battles,
especially if one parent says he/she is "fighting for the benefit of the
children" (implying the other parent is shortchanging the children). In
short, children suffer either way, i.e. in a crippled marriage with
parents fighting or in a divorce situation with parents still fighting at a
distance. Because fighting is harmful in all situations, some
researchers (e.g. Brehm, 1985) conclude that divorce should be
decided "for the parents," not "for the children." I disagree. The
children's interests and needs must be considered as much as the
adults' preferences because they are unfairly harmed more than
anyone else by the fighting. The kids didn't cause the divorce. Their
emotional health is too important to be neglected. Since neither parent
can quit the job of parenting, an important question is: Can the
parents do a better job co-parenting married or divorced? 
There is ample evidence that the traditional bitter divorce leading
to the alienation of one parent is a potential disaster for the children.
An important study has found that if the divorced-and-removed-from-
the-home parent (usually father) seldom visits (less than once a
month), the effects on the child can be devastating--learning deficits,
misbehavior, low self-esteem and depression (Wallerstein & Kelly,
1980). Therefore, I think the rights and desires of the children (along
with society who "picks up the pieces") should have equal
representation along with mom and dad in divorce hearings. Likewise,
one might think the courts should insist that custody and child care
responsibilities be shared by mom and dad, assuring the continued
intimate involvement of both. However, it is more complicated than
that if continuous anger is involved. 
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